Jan. 5 Thu. Our first port is Frederiksted, St. Croix. Drive on the left. English speaking. Had been a colony of England and Denmark before it was purchased by the USA. Spanish required in school. Walked to a nice beach near port. I forgot to take my snorkel, but had good swim. Strong winds had stirred up a lot of sand, so could not have seen much anyway. Local Spanish teacher from Puerto Rico just stopped and offered us a ride back to the ship. for which we were grateful. Many locals, however, are brusque and not helpful or friendly; too many tourists. Port was avoided by cruise ships for some years because of crime; still not safe at night but OK during day.
Jan. 6 Fri. Basseterre, St. Kitts. Very touristy. We took one for an hour ride to the end of the island. Beautiful mountain scenery, but nothing much to see or do in Dieppe bay at the end of the island. Then took a water taxi $10 each way to a place w/poor snorkeling, but had a good swim on a rough beach.
Jan. 7 Sat. Kingston, St. Vincent. Joined another couple and talked with the first taxi driver who suggested a trip to the botanical garden plus a Pirates of the Caribbean film site, $30 per person for an hour garden tour (interesting place) and another wild hour ride up and down and around bends, high speed, to a decrepit movie set w/not much to see, and then an hour back. Not fun. At $120, we got taken for a ride in more than one sense.
Jan. 8 Sun. Bridgetown, Barbados. City almost completely locked up, except for churches, taxis, and one bookie. HAL didn't tell us that. After much inquiry, we found a local $1bus to a beach at Payne's Bay with good swimming, so-so snorkeling. A local boat went out to feed turtles and fish. I swam out, too late to see either. Then bus back through deserted town to ship.
9 Mon. Castries, St. Lucia. This was the birth place of Derek Walcott, the person called the "greatest of the Caribbean poets" by the Norton Anthology. I had taught him in my "Poetry, Black and White" course. We visited the Walcott Library on Walcott Square. He was born here, lived on Jamaica and other islands, then NYC, and eventually became a college prof, I believe at Harvard. He writes of his African heritage, the beauty and mixed life on the islands, with quite a bit about the anger and hurt of a black man in a white world who identifies also with the English language. Later spent $7 for a water taxi to a nearby beach for a good swim but, as usual here, so-so snorkeling. Someone told me they had unusually warm ocean water in the summer of 2005 that spoiled a lot of the coral reefs.
Jan. 10 Tue. Phillipsburg, St. Maarten (Dutch; the other half French St. Martin). I had been here before and knew where I wanted to go, so we broke down and rented a car. Quoted price was $40 for a day, but by the time they added in taxes and insurance ("you wouldn't want to risk having to pay for damage someone else did, so better get the extra complete coverage"), it came to $85. Drove narrow hilly roads to the French side. But the wide open easily accessible beaches of twenty years ago are now surrounded and enclosed by fancy hotels. Technically, the beach itself is free, but there is pressure to rent a chair ($15) and buy a drink ($5), esp. if you wish to use the toilet. So it was with Oyster Pond and the Baie Orientale which I had remembered. The latter has a Nude Beach; we got a picture of the sign. Then took a short boat road to the Ilet Pinel, a little island with, supposedly, the best snorkeling. "See Isabel," people said when I asked. So I set off, barefoot, snorkel in hand, to find her little hut, though the beach led to a pebbly path with shards of glass. Isabel told me to snorkel to a little boat, a good swim out. There I found long "No Trespassing" cables along what looked like a good rocky snorkeling area. Yes, she said, to give the reefs time to recover after the hot summer. She could guide me to a good place, for a fee, but my money was way back that pebbly path, and she would not disclose her "business" secrets. Back the pebbly path to a beach where I saw other snorkelers and more fish than anywhere so far, but not really good. A typical misadventure.